California Campaign Finance Reform
The paper analyzes California Campaign Finance Reform. The main aim of the article is to show the evolution of reforms in fundraising political campaigns from 2000 until 2016. The paper includes seven sections: Introduction, The Origin of California Campaign Finance Reform (how the idea of reforming the system appeared), and Reasons for Reforms (why they should be changed), A Loophole in the Law (how politicians avoid laws), Offered Reforms (available reforms), Ways to Reform the System (different offers from experts), and Conclusion. The paper is supposed to show the importance of the present issue for all Americans in general with emphasis on the problem and its implications for California in particular.
California Campaign Finance Reform
The U.S. is a democratic country where people can participate not only in the elections but also in the pre-electoral campaign. Individuals and organizations can make a contribution to the election campaign of some party or candidate. The Federal Election Campaign Act was passed in 1971 in the U.S. It required parties and candidates to disclose their sources of contributions in the elections. In addition, individuals were allowed to invest up to $5,000 into a pre-electoral campaign. However, the question of the campaign finance reform is a much-debated issue in the USA, especially in California. California Campaign Finance Reform needs urgent modification. There is debate whether the public should sponsor elections and pay for ads, which are rather annoying for the majority of the population. In addition, California Campaign Finance should be reformed due to the fact that profit organizations influence the political situation in the country in pursuit of their own interests.
The Origin of California Campaign Finance Reform
Problems with the electoral campaign sponsoring started when profit organizations and companies showed active involvement in the political processes in the country, especially in elections. There are many suggestions to allow only contributions from individuals in small amounts or from non-profit organizations. In addition, transparency in the financing of the electoral campaign will hold the chosen officials accountable for their actions. “Knowing who funded their campaigns is an essential component of maintaining an effective, accountable democracy” (Burgam, 2016). Some democracies are short of transparency in the government, which is one of the major hindrances in its evolution. Since the results of elections are directly connected with the lives of millions of people, the financial reform in elections should be implemented in the near future with the approval of citizens. California is the state where this problem is the most urgent.
The public’s money goes to electoral campaigns while it could have been used for developing schools, hospitals, and other important aspects of life. According to Los Angeles Times, beginning from 2000, ten people have contributed $266.6 million to California political campaigns only during one decade (McGreevy, 2010). This information refers to ten people only while the amount of money contributed by all people is much higher. Here is the list of those ten people: Steve Bing, Steve Poizner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Meg Whitman, and other influential people (McGreevy, 2010). It shows that even one person can change the political situation in a certain area. That is the reason why the reform of financing political campaigns should be implemented until the next elections. Since owners of companies can lobby their interests by sponsoring some group of people, people should be very cautious with their voices and demand more transparency in electoral campaigns.
Considering the heated debate about new reform, the following question arises: Should anyone running for office be given public money? Probably, the answer is “yes”. Not only businesspersons and wealth people should have an opportunity to be elected. The pre-electoral campaign needs great expenditure. No matter how good some politician is, he will not succeed without a pre-electoral campaign and expenditure on it. If the public sponsors elections, it has a much wider choice of politicians to be elected. It is the main feature of democracy known as pluralism. On the other hand, the right to sponsor politicians is used not only by the public but also by profit organizations and influential people who are interested in lobbying their goals. Hence, the gold middle should be achieved in the future reform.
Reasons for Reforms
The major reason why a campaign financial reform is a much debated issue in the USA is that California sponsors more political campaigns than any other state. According to the Huffington Post, California’s democratic fundraising is the highest in the nation (Sankin, 2012). California is the most important state in elections since it has the biggest significance – 55 electoral votes. The candidate who wins in this state will probably win in the whole country. That is why, the support among the citizens of California and their financial help play a crucial role in elections. For instance, Barack Obama won mainly due to this state. “Californians have given President Obama’s campaign just over $30 million in this election cycle alone. That’s more than the second- and third-ranked states, New York and Illinois, combined” (Sankin, 2012). Among sponsors, there are Jeff Katzenberg (DreamWorks), Irwin Jacobs (Qualcomm), and investor Anne Earhart, PACs of the University of California, who sponsor $500,000, and even Google ($357,000) (Sankin, 2012). All those donations helped Obama win the elections.
As already mentioned, not only ordinary citizens contribute to pre-electoral campaigns but also profit organizations and private individuals who want to lobby their interests. However, there is another group of people, whose contributions are even worse than companies’ donations. Those are called out-of-state groups. They are usually in shadow and unknown to the public. That is where hidden danger for the democracy of the country lies since even foreign countries can sponsor some candidates in their own interests. According to the Huffington Post, Californian candidates received $11 million in 2012 from a secret organization (Siders, 2013). “Democratic lawmakers have begun introducing legislation to increase disclosure requirements and the power of the Fair Political Practices Commission” (Siders, 2013). This Commission offered to make a list of donators known to the public before the election, not after it. Such a measure would make the choice of each voter more conscious.
A Loophole in the Law
Direct fundraising is not the only way to sponsor candidates. Beginning from 2000, donors were limited in their donations to political campaigns. However, politicians found a loophole due to a ballot measure, which is an example of direct democracy where people can get advice and offer some changes. As a ballot measure is not limited in its contributions, many lawmakers use it in pursuit of getting money for political campaigns. For instance, in two years only, $2.7 million has been received in this way (Van Oot, 2013). There are already at least two dozens of politicians who have created ballot measures to get money, using a great part of the contribution to pay for political ads, polling, and professional drives (Van Oot, 2013).
However, there are many opponents of ballot measures since they are used not to promote public interests but rather to cover expenditures on political campaigns. A major scandal took place in 2005 when Arnold Schwarzenegger violated the First Amendment rights (Van Oot, 2013). He used the money of the ballot measure to promote his political campaign. After that scandal, the changes were adopted in 2009. All contributions over $100 had to be visible for everyone. Hence, a ballot measure is a controversial issue. It should be highly controlled by the public or some commissions to avoid neglect on the part of politicians.
The fundraising political campaign is a sore topic in California. Hence, the state Senate of California voted for amending the U.S. Constitution in 2012 (Reilly, 2014). They wanted to minimize the influence of money on policy. Mike Gatto, the state Assemblyman, introduced this Resolution (Reilly, 2014). The man offered to create super PACs (Reilly, 2014). It is “an independent political committee”, which has a budget, separated from public contributions, which makes possible spending unlimited money on political campaigns (Reilly, 2014). This independent body will solve the problem of incomes from profit organizations and secret groups.
Another major event was the California Disclose Act, also known as California Clean (California Clean Money Campaign). Assemblymembers Jimmy Gomez and Marc Levine offered this Act in pursuit of transparency in policy. The main aim of the Act is to make the public aware of all sponsors. People need to know which companies or people are ready to pay a great amount of money to get voices. It is important to note that there was a petition on the website that called people to sign it because of three reasons. Firstly, voters need to know who really pays for ads. Secondly, ballot measures will search more carefully for their three main funders. Thirdly, “follow-the-money disclosure stops ads from deceiving voters about who pays” (California Clean Money Campaign). Therefore, the above changes are sure to make public officials accountable to voters.
Ways to Reform the System
There were many attempts to reform fundraising political campaigns in the U.S. Some of them succeeded while others failed. However, there is a number of suggestions how the system can be reformed. The first one is the disclosure of the contributor’s personnel information, such as name, occupation, employer, sources of income, and so on. However, there is a problem with it. If the amount of contribution does not reach a certain level, it can be transmitted anonymously. Therefore, even if the public is aware of large contributors’ identities, they do not know small contributors who also have a great significance. Another feature is occupation. It should be visible for to public since people can know the economic purpose of the contributors.
The second practice is to “list contributors’ aggregate contributions” (Burgam, 2016). This list allows the public to see the whole amount of donations made by a certain contributor. Sometimes, contributors make several transactions making it harder for the public to see the whole amount of donations. That is why, this list will add to transparency in elections. This information can be available for a certain period of time (calendar year, election cycle, or the whole period).
The third practice is to “differentiate and clearly identify transaction types” (Burgam, 2016). Political campaigns can be funded not only with direct contributions. There are such types as “direct contributions, in-kind contributions, loans, loan repayments, unitemized contributions, other/non-contribution income, and returned contributions” (Burgam, 2016). Knowing all these types and being able to follow all the reports (not only with direct contributions but also with other types), the public can control politicians.
As the line between having a chance to be elected and corruption is very thin, the reform is an important issue for America in general and California in particular, where the rate of contributions is the highest. Super PACs is a beneficial reform; nevertheless, it has many disadvantages. For instance, it requires information only about five donors. Hence, some of the largest contributors stay in shadow.
The American system of elections is quite special compared to other countries. Candidates and parties do not waste their own money. They receive contributions from individuals, nonprofit organizations, profit organizations, businesspersons, and even out-of-state groups. California is the most important state in American elections since it has 55 electoral voices. Hence, it is natural that California has the highest rate of contributions to political campaigns.
Although the government and the public are searching the ways for reforming the present financial system of elections, politicians find new methods to bypass the rules. For instance, a ballot measure was one of such methods. Super PACs and California Disclose Act were offered in a bid to change the system. Although they improved it, the system still has many weak sides. Thus, it is important to find new ways of reforming the financial political campaign. Public contributions are significant for candidates with knowledge and talents but without money; however, contributions may allow companies to lobby their interests in the government and foster corruption in the elections. Hence, the California Campaign Finance Reform is a sore topic in the state and needs urgent attention.